#40: Oklahoma St
They've got a high-powered offense, but their defense needs to improve. If they can learn to play decently on the road, they could be pretty good.
One of these years, the Terps will get good QB play and make a sizable move up. That could be this year.
#38: Oregon St
They lose their best defensive producers, their best offensive player (RB Yvenson Bernard)… and yet I could see them being pretty good. They have to get much better QB play, Sammie Stroughter has to be really good, and all the guys on defense who've had experience but haven't started have to produce. It could be a bad season if things break poorly (the schedule certainly doesn't help), but there's also the potential to be a surprise top 25 entry as well.
The defense loses its best players (except CB Davis), the run-first offense loses its running back, two O-linemen are gone, they'll have to deal with expectations this time around, they probably won't be injury-free again… Yeah, I don't see a top 25 team here. There's still talent, though, so I don't expect them to fall too far back.
More on potential than anything else. Just about every important contributor is gone, but there's still plenty of talent left. They could be this year's Notre Dame, or they could be surprisingly good. Who knows?
This team could take a step up, but the defense has yet to be very impressive, and Wilson has to show he's capable of consistently doing much more, or Auburn's going to tack another one onto their winning streak, and the Tide will spend another December in a minor bowl game.
The defense has some holes, and the offense doesn't look scary, but this is still a talented and potentially dangerous team. Never overlook a team with this much experience that has won double-digits four of the last six years.
Obviously this team has a lot of potential, and obviously LeSean McCoy is a great running back. And it sure doesn't seem likely that they'll get as ravaged by injuries again this year. That said, this was still the same team who lost to Navy, who got whipped by both UConn and Virginia, and who barely held on against Syracuse. There's certainly top 25 potential, but at some point there has to be consistency before they can be taken seriously. Remember, this team still hasn't made a bowl in the past three seasons, despite having a pretty cushy schedule each time out.
#32: Florida St
It's been so long since the Seminoles have been relevant that you have to wonder if they're capable of making a run of it. That said, the defense looks good, they've got some good running backs, and Weatherford could improve.
#31: Michigan St
The Spartans could be a minor surprise. The defense should be decent, the running game looks good, the quarterback is good (though the receivers are new), so there's a real shot they could make a top 25 run.
The holes on defense look too great for them to make a serious BCS run, especially with TCU and Utah both road games, but it would be unwise to totally count out a team with this level of firepower.
#29: North Carolina
If Virginia Tech doesn't win the division, then this is the only logical alternative. Georgia Tech and Virginia got gutted, Duke is still Duke, and Miami doesn't look scary at all. The Tar Heels, though, could very well be a big surprise. The defense wasn't bad and should certainly improve (they'll obviously miss Mapp though), and as long as Yates stops throwing so many picks, the offense should be pretty good as well. It's too early to tell whether they do anything, but they certainly have potential.
#28: Notre Dame
For all of the crap they've (deservedly) gotten last year, this is still a team with tremendous talent, and I fully expect them to improve in a big way, especially now that they've seriously upgraded their coaching with the hire of Jon Tenuda as DC. That said, "a big way" probably means 7-5 or 8-4, as opposed to a serious BCS run.
There were plenty of smoke, mirrors, and luck (easy schedule, no injuries) behind their surprise run last year. They should still be pretty good, but I don't see a repeat performance.
There's no Ray Rice, but there's plenty of talent everywhere else. This should be a top 25 team when it's all said and done, with a small chance of becoming more than that.
#25: Fresno St
This should be the team to beat in the WAC, this should be a team capable of 3-1 non-conference, and this should be a team that goes 10-1 before the Boise trip and seriously challenges the notion that a non-BCS team has to run the table to get an at-large bid. But they'll probably do what they always do and blow one to Hawaii, Nevada, LA Tech or San Jose St instead.
#24: Virginia Tech
They're here more on reputation and coaching than personnel. The defense looks OK but far from dominant, the offense loses Brandon Ore and the receiving corps, but Sean Glennon should grow a bit this year, and the line should be good as well. There's little reason on paper to think this team will do much, but somehow you just know they will.
The Ducks have some huge holes to fill at quarterback and running back, and Costa's knee is now an open question, but they've definitely got the talent to find a way to surprise. The defense should be good, though probably not great.
#22: Penn St
This team should certainly be good, but I'm less sold on the Lions than some. Morrelli didn't do much so I don't think they'll miss him, but I do think they'll miss running back Rodney Kinlaw a lot. Moreover, Dan Connor and Sean Lee were the heart of a great defense in 2007; despite returning just about everyone else, I expect them to take a bit of a step back in that department. Plus, the offseason issues aren't a good omen for the campaign either.
#21: Wake Forest
Maybe this was a one-year wonder in terms of being truly dangerous, but they return a good running back and most everything on defense, so at the least a repeat 8-4 campaign would be pretty respectable, and there's certainly potential for a bit more, especially if Clemson pulls a Clemson.
#20: South Carolina
I love the defense, but the offense not nearly as much. At some point you have to think Spurrier would get good production at quarterback, but it just doesn't seem to be happening. Losing Boyd at running back hurts a bit as well.
Yes, they really underachieved last year, but this is still a very talented and dangerous team. The defense should be a lot stronger with so many key performers back, and the offense will improve despite the personnel losses.
There's just no love for the Huskies anywhere these days it seems. Yes, they were lucky last year, yes they won a bunch of close games, yes they obviously cheated on that punt return, yes they got killed on the road by the two best Big East teams in 2007, and yes the schedule ramps up a bit, but this was still a very good team that returns just about everyone of note, and to boot they'll certainly have a chip on their shoulder after getting zero respect following a tie for the league title.
I think they're really going to miss a great quarterback in Eric Ainge, and there are a few too many pieces missing to expect them to be BCS-level, though this is still a very dangerous team.
This looks like the best of the mid-majors, although BYU and Fresno will give them competition. If they can win at Michigan, then a return trip to the Fiesta Bowl is very doable.
They have a bunch of replacements on defense, they lose Jamaal Charles, and Colt McCoy can't throw to himself. It's tough to think they'll do better than 3rd in the division this year.
Flynn and Perrilloux are gone, Hester is gone, and the defense is gutted. Other than that things are great. Actually, this team should still be good, as there's obviously tremendous talent on this roster. But I'd be surprised to see them win the West, and shocked to see them in a BCS game.
#13: West Virginia
I've got to be honest, this feels like a rebuilding year for these guys. The secondary was totally gutted, the D-line is rebuilding, they'll definitely miss Steve Slaton, and Pat White is a run-first quarterback with a well-documented injury history.
#12: Arizona St
I definitely see this as the second best Pac-10 team, with a shot at taking home the league title. There are some missing pieces here and there, but this is a team that finds ways to get things done. If they can fix their O-line then this is a top 10 team.
#11: Texas Tech
They should have a fantastic passing game. However, they still can't run the ball, and that defense still looks iffy. You shut down the pass you shut down this team, and as long as that's true, I can't consider this a serious national title contender.
This team strikes me as being underrated. There's a new quarterback, there's a new offense, there are a few guys on defense who need to be replaced, but the O-line is back, the collection of running backs is back, and this team simply has a way of doing better than it looks like they should, year in and year out. If quarterback and the system transition work out, this is a top 5 team.
I really like what I see in this team. Certainly, having a question mark at quarterback isn't a plus, but this is a team that wins on running and stopping the run, and should be great at both. The pass defense should improve; how much it does probably determines whether this team is good or great.
Chase Daniel is great, the defense should be strong, and as long as they can plus the gaps in the O-line and replace Troy Temple, they should be very good. They've still got Gary Pinkel, and I still wonder about their ability to close when it counts.
#7: South Florida
Forget the Sun Bowl loss to Oregon. This team is scary-good, with a very strong defense and a great running game. Quarterback is the issue, though; if Grothe throws another 14 picks this team will suffer for it, but if he becomes a consistent performer, the sky is the limit.
There's too much talent here for them not to be successful. The passing game, the running game, and the defense all look great, theoretically they're a serious national title contender, and theoretically I've underrated them even at this level. Then again, they still can't find a way to win their own division, much less the league, despite generally being the team to beat, so you have to wonder if this is just going to be another Clemson disappointment, but on a larger scale. We'll see.
I'm just not sold on the Trojans being great this year. The offense is a gaping question mark, and honestly Rey Maualuga is the only really good player they've got coming back on either side of the ball. That said, USC is always dangerous, even when it looks like it ought to be a rebuilding year.
The offseason issues are certainly disturbing, but the Bulldogs are pretty clearly above the rest of the crowd anyway (though I wonder about the impact of losing their left tackle). They return weapons everywhere, and aren't far behind the Gators in terms of overall quality. That said, Tebow is better than Stafford, and I have to wonder how this team will handle having a target on its back, which they haven't had to do since 2004, a good but not great season.
There are holes on defense, they lose Allen Patrick, and on paper Missouri and/or Texas Tech have passed them. On the field, though, I still like this team a lot and think they're the class of the league. Unless Bradford suffers a sophomore slump, this is going to be a crazy-good passing game.
Of all the teams in the country, this one has to have the highest upside. Tebow is fantastic, the receivers are very good, and the defense should be great. Running back is a bit of a question mark, injuries are starting to pile up, and I still wonder whether Tebow will stay healthy the whole year (remember Georgia in 2007?). Still, they look like to be significantly better than the rest of the crowd.
#1: Ohio St
Yeah, yeah, it's the team no one particularly wants to see in the title game. But it's also the one team in the country that really doesn't seem to have any big weaknesses or question marks, and really should be able to play their way back into the title game, and this time maybe even win it.
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